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Arena: Dempsey is still “an important player” for USMNT

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Clint Dempsey will be 35 next summer when the World Cup turns to Russia, but the Seattle Sounders forward is still a vital piece in the U.S. Men’s National Team setup.

[ MORE: USMNT faces Venezuela ahead of return to Hex action ]

And manager Bruce Arena agrees.

“[Dempsey] has a bunch of good years still ahead of him,” Arena said. “With the national team, I think as we continue to surround him with good players, he’s still is a player that we believe can give us quality minutes and be an important player.”

Not only is Dempsey one of the most decorated USMNT players of his generation, which has seen the likes of Landon Donovan and others, but the Texas native is on the verge of cementing his place as the best goalscorer in U.S. history.

Dempsey is just one goal away from tying Donovan’s USMNT record of 57 goals, and the former Fulham attacker has reached this point after making 25 fewer international appearances than his former compatriot.

Arena, like many others, had his doubts about Dempsey’s lofty aspirations overseas, but the U.S. manager believes the Sounders forwards not only excelled in Europe but exceeded expectations during his time in England.

“[Dempsey’s] career has been impressive,” said Arena. “When he left MLS I certainly had my doubts that he could be a player that could earn significant minutes and move to big clubs in Europe, but he proved everyone wrong.”

Last season provided a major scare for Dempsey and both his club and national teams after the forward missed significant time due to a heart irregularity discovered by Sounders doctors.

Not only was Dempsey unavailable to play as the Sounders went on to win MLS Cup in December but the U.S. veteran’s future was in serious doubt.

Since, Dempsey has stormed back onto the MLS and U.S. Soccer scenes in 2017 with four goals each for the Sounders and USMNT.

“I think his illness last year allowed him to reflect on himself a little bit as a player and person, and I think it’s brought a different perspective to him both on and off the field,” said Arena. “Today, I see a quality player who is in a good place. It’s been a great run for him.”

Ronaldo explains his new chin hair at World Cup

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Now that Cristiano Ronaldo has taken to sporting a reasonable hairstyle atop his head, people are talking about the foliage on his face.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

Ronaldo, 33, drew speculation when he stroked his chin following a goal in his hat trick performance against Spain in the World Cup opener. Some said he was demonstrating defiance against Lionel Messi posing with a goat (Greatest Of All Time) in a recent photograph.

Ronaldo scored again on Wednesday, and there was seemingly little doubt his goatee was a wink to the speculators. But what did it mean, CR7? From ESPN:

“This goatee? It’s a joke I had with [Ricardo] Quaresma. “We were in the sauna [before Friday’s match against Spain] and I started to shave and I left the goatee. I said if I score tomorrow, I would leave it for the rest of the tournament. And it gave me luck.

“I scored in that game, I scored in this one, so it stays.”

Personally, I like to imagine Ronaldo starting to get as wild with his facial hair as he did his head hair.

Perhaps a beatnik style, or something like Serj Tankian from System of a Down. Get nuts, C-Ron.

Report: Southampton could sell Tadic to Ajax for $20m

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Could Southampton be selling one of its most creative forces?

Dusan Tadic, 29, is in the middle of a World Cup run with dark horse Serbia, but the Saints star is also being talked about as a purchase item for Ajax.

[ MORE: Serbia tops Costa Rica ]

The celebrated Eredivisie has traditionally been a selling club for the Premier League, but could be a $20 million buy for Ajax.

The report says director of players Marc Overmars and financial director Jeroen Slop have flown to Southampton to work out a deal.

Tadic starred for Dutch sides Groningen and Twente between 2010-14 before moving to St. Mary’s for a reported $12 million.

He’s scored 24 goals with 35 assists in 162 appearances for Saints, 21 and 30 of which came in the Premier League.

Toronto locks down USMNT backstop Bono with extension

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Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono is going to stay Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

The newly-capped USMNT backstop, 24, has been attracting interest from abroad since breaking past Clint Irwin to win the TFC job and guiding the club to multiple MLS Cup Finals.

Now general manager Tim Bezbatchenko has locked down his young goalkeeper to an undisclosed contract extension. From

“Alex was a big part of our success last season. He set club records for wins and clean sheets and was a critical piece of our championship team,” said Toronto FC Sr. Vice-President, Soccer Operations & General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko. “Since joining the club as a first round pick in 2015, Alex’s ability to make key saves in big moments has been critical to our success.”

The Syracuse-born product of Syracuse University has made 64 appearances for the Reds.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 8 — Argentina on the edge; France aims for berth

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France, Denmark, and Croatia can clinch knockout round berths on Thursday in Russia, the last nation also holding the opportunity to help deprive the World Cup of an extended Lionel Messi run.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Messi’s Argentina drew Iceland in its opener, the megastar infamously missing a penalty, and will look to beat a Croatian side that looked quite good in dispatching Nigeria.

That’s the final match of the day, which begins with Denmark facing Australia and continues with a tasty match-up between France and Peru.

Below is Thursday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

2018 World Cup schedule – Wednesday, June 20

Group C
Denmark vs. Australia: Samara, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
France vs. Peru: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group D
Argentina vs. Croatia: Nizhny Novgorod, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE